Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Instant takeaways from Browns’ 21-21 tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers …
1. Are you serious?: One of the craziest Cleveland-Pittsburgh games in history finally went the way of the Browns. Well, sort of. The game ended in a 21-21 tie – the first tie in the 68-year history of this rivalry -- after both kickers missed field goals in overtime in the driving rain. Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell missed from 42 yards with 1:44 to go. And then after the Browns produced their six defensive turnover of the wet day – a strip-sack by Genard Avery and a recovery by linebacker Joe Schobert – Zane Gonzalez missed a game-winning attempt from 43 yards. The Browns made up a 21-7 deficit in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t finish the job. Still, the tie technically halted their 19-game losing streak and improved (?) their record in season openers since 1999 to 1-18-1.
2. JG steps up: Josh Gordon was mostly a decoy on the day – until he made the catch of the game to tie the score (after the PAT) with 1:58 to go. A Christian Kirksey sack forced a punt with 2:10 on the clock. Jabril Peppers’ 15-yard return gave the Browns the ball at their 45. A Taylor completion of 38 yards to Rashard Higgins took the ball to the Steelers’ 17. On the next play, Taylor threw to Gordon, single-covered down the right sideline by Cameron Sutton. Approaching the inside right corner of the end zone, Gordon plucked the ball off Sutton’s helmet, secured the ball and tip-toed both feet in bounds before falling to the ground. The Browns forced a punt and had one more chance to pull it out in regulation, but Taylor’s underthrown pass for Gordon was intercepted at the Pittsburgh 8 with :16 left, forcing the overtime.
3. Myles takes over: Myles Garrett put the Browns back in the game with two takeaways in the span of a minute in the fourth quarter. His first – a strip of running back James Conner, returned to the Steelers’ 1 by safety Jabril Peppers – resulted in a Carlos Hyde 1-yard touchdown to close the Pittsburgh lead to 21-14. On the next Steelers possession, Garrett strip-sacked Roethlisberger and linebacker Joe Schobert recovered at the Pittsburgh 37. But Taylor could not make a first down and the Browns punted from the Steelers’ 39 with 5:14 to go. Until that sequence, Garrett had a mostly frustrating first meeting against Roethlisberger. He did score another sack of Ben, but also was flagged once for jumping offside and another time for roughing when he knocked down the quarterback a tad late after a throw. The penalty came on a third-down throwaway by Roethlisberger. Given a reprieve, the Steelers scored on a 4-yard touchdown by Conner on the very next play.
4. Buzz kill: After a terrible first half offensively, the Browns finally got the fans into the game on their first possession of the second half, simply by running the ball down the field. Taylor got the touchdown on a 20-yard run on which he trundled over cornerback Artie Burns at the goal line. Burns had changed the momentum on the drive by drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for slamming his helmet into the ground after a scuffle with Jarvis Landry. But the buzz was short-lived. JuJu Smith-Schuster beat Briean Boddy-Calhoun on a short slant and raced 67 yards to set up a 22-yard touchdown catch by Antonio Brown over Denzel Ward, who wasn’t looking at the ball. After the Browns were forced to punt on their next series, a 20-yard punt return by Ryan Switzer gave the Steelers the ball at the Browns’ 39-yard line. James Conner ran 17 yards, and then 22, for the touchdown as the Browns’ defense looked dazed and confused.
5. Turnover fever: Three interceptions by the Browns in the first half resulted in no points. In his first NFL game, Ward equaled his career total in three years at Ohio State with two picks of Roethlisberger. The first came when Roethlisberger was pressured by linebacker Genard Avery and threw for Brown, who was double covered. Ward stretched out parallel to the ground to make the interception at the 10. On the second one, Ward was the beneficiary of a ball clanging off the hands of tight end Jesse James. Safety Damarious Randall also picked off Roethlisberger on a 50-yard heave for Brown down the middle of the field.
6. About that tackle decision: The first bad sign of a tough debut for rookie left tackle Desmond Harrison came on the fourth play – a false start. And this after left guard Joel Bitonio false-started on the previous play. Harrison would have another false start late in the first half and then was destroyed on successive plays by rush linebacker Bud Dupree to close out the first half, resulting in a six-yard loss by Duke Johnson and then a strip-sack of Taylor. Incidentally, the Browns were whistled for four false starts total in the first half as tight end David Njoku added one. (Njoku added two drops in the third quarter.) Four false starts in a half on your home field is unacceptable.
7. Strange offense: The Browns said Gordon would not start, but he did. Then he was removed for the rest of the first possession, and the Browns then called pass plays on nine of the next 10 snaps, though Taylor tucked it in and ran with it twice. Gordon was no factor in the first half, other than on a negative play. Gordon was flagged for roughness when he pushed Burns after the play. The penalty knocked the Browns out of field-goal range and resulted in a punt.